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Who is my relative? South African Indian

Discussion in 'Indians in Africa' started by Neesha, Oct 10, 2007.

  1. Neesha

    Neesha Senior IL'ite

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    Got your attention!
    First a brief history of South African Indians. We are 5th to 6th generation Indians born in South Africa. Between 1860 and 1912 Indians were brought as indentured labourers (better than slaves!) to work in Natal on the sugar cane farms. Some came thereafter as passenger Indians to start small businesses here. Conditions were harsh but eventually a distinct community evolved. Amongst the North Indians many were from Bihar and Eastern Uttar Pradesh and from South India they came from the Madras Presidency. They tried to keep their culture as best as they could but been isolated from India lots of variations and adaptations occured. Also customs were melded into a distinct Hindi culture and Tamil and Telegu culture. Telegu, Malayanam etc people adapted to Tamil language and customs although there is also a distinct Andhra group. People lost contact with relatives in India since they relied on post and ship journeys were expensive and took 6 mths.
    At present the Indian community has Hindi, Gujerati, Tamil and Telegu groupings. Now with marriages amongst different language groups even that distinction is blurry.
    My father says his great grandfather came from a village Gazipur in Bihar. When I checked Gazipur is in Uttar Pradesh. His brothers (greatgrandfather's) went back to India.
    My mother's family came from Tamil Nadu may be Pondicherry. Their surname is Pillay (maybe Pillai in India). My greatgrandfather was a herbalist and a vegetarian.
    I would like one day to try and do a family tree for bith sides of the family tracing to our Indian roots.
    Its like a jigsaw puzzle trying to fit in where and why and how the customs and rituals we follow originated.
    The important prayers in my Dads side are Sathnarayan Katha, Hanuman Jhunda (hoisting the red flag), Durga puja (make halwa puri and "rort") esp during Navarathri, observing Pitr Paksh.
    On my mother's side they are Muruga devotees, observe kavady, Purtassi month and Amman (porridge) prayers.
    This is more or less the prayers of most hindi and tamil speaking people respectively. Of course we all celebrate Diwali, which is just round the bend.

    From time to time I will enlighten you on our practices lifestyle etc. but I would like to hear from others cos who knows maybe you are my long lost relative!!
    Bye for now.
    Neesha
     
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  2. rajmiarun

    rajmiarun Silver IL'ite

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    Hi Neesha,

    Nice thread and nice writeup about the mixture of cultures and customs. Keep your fingers crossed, you will definitely find your cousins.:thumbsup
     
  3. Neesha

    Neesha Senior IL'ite

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    Hi Rajmiarun

    Thanx for your encouragement. Even if I don't know my relatives it feels like I'mamongst family here. It doesn't matter which part of India people come from but I feel a kinship and something familiar amongst the Indians on this web community.
    By the way I read your profile and we have a lot in common. My birthday is 24 November. I have a 5 yr old son and a 10 mth old daughter and I studied Human Resource Managemnt!!
    But I'm very envious about all the educated women that are staying at home with their kids. I'm at that stage where I wish that I could also take a few years break and enjoy my children. Its just that the working conditions are such if yo leave you would not be able to get back at the level you were on. Also the cost of living is such that both people need to work.

    Love Neesha
     
  4. Nivedi

    Nivedi New IL'ite

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    Hi Neesha,

    Very interesting amalgam of cultures and practices. I wish you luck in finding your family roots in India.

    What you say is similar to many Malaysian Indians too. My father's grandfather went to Malaysia (was known as Malaya then) and never returned. A couple of other family members who also went around the same time to Malaysia had sent word that they had seen him there, but the family heard nothing more.

    A few years back I happened to live in Malaysia and I came across many people who had no contacts with their family in India. Some people who claimed Telugu ancestory spoke Tamil and practiced Tamil customs and yet had "Rao" as surnames. I guess with the passage of time, cultures and customs blend.
     
  5. Abha

    Abha Bronze IL'ite

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    Hi Neesha

    This is quite interesting, you father has some connections from gazhipur... well ghazhipur is a small colony (famous for its dairy and vegetable market) on the border of Delhi and U.P. i 'm from delhi and this place was on my way to my workplace in Noida.

    One thing that amazes me is that you guys still follow customs and rituals and all the festivals, thats very impressive. Also do you speak Hindi or Tamil or you dont know any of these languages and just speak English ?

    ~Abha
     
  6. Shobanag

    Shobanag Bronze IL'ite

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    Hi Neesha - first of all welcome to IL. You gave us such an education on the Indian migration generations ago. It amazes me that you have so much of our culture flourishing there - even after 6 or 7 generations! I have heard of Indians migrating to the Fiji islands to work in the sugar plantations but had no idea that Indians were in SA in the same fashion. I thought it was more recent than that. You must write more about life in SA. I am sure you can give us all a wonderful history about Indians in SA! Please do write more...:-D
     
  7. Blondie

    Blondie Bronze IL'ite

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    Hi Neesha,

    would like to know if any of your ancestors knew Gandhiji personally / indirectly. Would like to have an account of those times from a person with direct links to that part of the world. I am in admiration of the folks who were able to instill their culture for so long in their progeny. Here in US the first generation indians are finding it so tough to instill the same values in their kids. My younger one does not speak my native language:-(; happy that he can atleast understand. Do you speak any of the indian languages? If you do how did you manage to do so?
     
  8. maha

    maha Senior IL'ite

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    Hi Neesha,

    Welcome to IL ...

    I dont feel this to be the dream of a single person , but u r the voice of many people who have lost their roots . Your post helped us to get an insight about migrants in SA . This is such a pitiful situation that even brings an alarming caution to the future.. One thing which is really appreciable is the way diversity of cultures and religions become universal. We learn to accept people in their own ways and own values.. I think u stand as a perfect example for that... And the most exciting thing is that, u still follow the traditional values !!! Though we r wounded in one way abt loosing our relatives we can atleast be content that we instill the same tradition to our future generation ... I am Sure that if the question u raised is deeply rooted in your mind it will one day be definitely answered...

    Cheers,:thumbsup
     
  9. Neesha

    Neesha Senior IL'ite

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    Dear Rajmiarun, Nivedi, Abha, Shobanag, Blondie, Maha, Balamotwani

    Thanx for your response and good wishes.
    The indentured system, of sending Indian workers, took place in Mauritius, South Africa, Fiji, Surinam, Guyana, West Indies (few more) - so Indians are scattered around the world.
    I think one of the reasons that we were able to maintain our cultural practices was that the "Group Areas Act" meant that Indians had to stay in certain areas. This meant you had a whole community of Indians and therefore you could practice your customs and you learnt from other families too.
    We were also isolated from India, few scholars and imports of clothing, films etc. The organisations like Arya Samaj, Sanathan Hindu society, Tamil vedic society, Divine Life, RamaKrishna society, Sai Organisation etc have kept the culture and religion alive. Tamil and hindi classes were arranged. Even the film industry contributed to maintaining some customs.
    Things were very tough in the early days but the Indian parents felt that if children are educated then only there is some hope so schools were built by the community. Later the govt helped (state aided schools). In this way the language got sacrificed because to communicate officially English was important. Now most of us speak English at home. Even I went to Hindi school but we learnt it and don't practice it so its difficult now. Of course Bollywood movies mean we know certain common phrases but we rely on the subtitles.
    Its amazing how we sing favourite songs not knowing what it means. However I do know the meaning of bhajans that we sing so at least thats good. The Gujerati families and Muslims speaking urdu have kept to their language more.
    You know we were often criticised that we don't do this or that like Hindus/Indians in India do but I think our forefathers did quite well to give us the richness of our heritage. The good thing too is that we don't even know much abt the caste system let alone follow it. We don't follow the custom of dowry too. Perhaps the values and essence of Indianess is more important than the customs. (You are right Maha)
    Blondie- you touched on such an important aspect. We read about Gandhi like he was a person in "History" yet he may have walked and talked to "our" people. I walked in his steps cos I'm from Pietermaritzburg (the railway station where he was thrown off the train) It was emotional when Mr Mandela unveiled the Gandhi statue in our city, we first went to the exact spot at the station. I will check with older relatives but my brother in law is a direct descendant of Mahatma Gandhi. His grandfather SA Gandhi was the grandson of Gandhiji's brother. So my two nieces are Anika and Mishka Gandhi!! (Hey even I'm related to Gandhiji!!)
    Abha - I'm going to get information from my Dads cousin who we think had some contact with the relatives in India. History repeats itself because when I first started work I worked in a Milk Laboratory!! Though we never stayed on a farm I worked for the past 19 years in the Department of Agriculture and I'm married to Dharam who is from a "farming community".
    Nivedi - we have tamil Naidoo, Padayachee, Chetty, Moodley (I think they have Telegu ancestory (Chettiars, Moodliar etc). But we do have a small Andhra group too.
    Balamotwani - I will reply to you but don't you think its an Indian thing - obsession with gold!! - just that they cap their teeth with it.
    Hope I answered all your questions, but will still write and please keep in touch.
    Regards Neesha
     
  10. Abha

    Abha Bronze IL'ite

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    HI Neesha

    This post of yours is just great, I mean, there wud be very few people who know about this and that you came to IL and enlighetened all of us regarding this is just amazing.

    Please keep posting more about your lifestyle and living...

    ~Abha
     

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